Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3


Milkman now has more time to spend with Pilate, Hagar and Guitar, as he is constantly sent off to pick up rent money in the Southside. Although Guitar is oftentimes busy, Milkman occasionally ditches school in order to be with his friend. On one such day, Guitar takes Milkman to Feather's Pool Hall on Tenth Street, located in the middle of the Blood Bank area, so termed because blood flowed very easily in that particular section of the Southside. Inside, Guitar asks Feather to serve them two beers, but is refused on account of Milkman, because he is Macon Dead's son. Guitar, unable to convince Feather that they can stay, leaves with Milkman, and the two boys wander around town until they arrive at a barbershop, owned by Railroad Tommy and Hospital Tommy.

At fourteen, Milkman begins to believe that one of his legs is shorter than the other. He works at masking this defect, always crossing his left ankle over the right or dancing stiff-legged so that it would not be noticeable to others. Although this defect was partly in his imagination, it served as a basis for his belief that he would never be able to emulate his father. As he could not grow to be like Macon, Milkman chooses to be the opposite of his father, both in character and in appearance. However, Milkman continues to be a good employee to his father, always doing his best and always fetching the rent money from the tenants. And Macon is delighted in his son, partly for his work ethic but mostly for he now had the time to pore over bank papers to decide which plots of land were worth investing in. Of foremost importance to Macon is his belief that his son now belonged to him and not to Ruth.

One day, at what started out as pleasant dinner conversation, Ruth describes her experience of attending her father's former patient Mrs. Djvorak's daughter's Catholic wedding ceremony. Ruth herself being a Methodist, she discloses the fact that she had no idea that only Catholics were allowed to receive communion. Ruth's pretense of innocence drives Macon into a rage; he accuses Ruth of being "silly woman" who by herself "ain't nobody." Ruth's following admission of her being her "daddy's daughter" only proceeds to provoke Macon even further, and he smashes her jaw with his fist right there at the dinner table. Milkman, witness to the aforementioned events, grabs his father by his shirt collar and lets him aggressively know that if Macon touches Ruth one more time, Milkman will kill him.

Shortly after their physical altercation, Macon visits Milkman's room to offer an explanation of his actions to Ruth. Although Milkman resists hearing the information, Macon proceeds to disclose that the Doctor delivered both Lena and Corinthians, explicitly against Macon's wishes. A father delivering his daughter's children was sexually inappropriate in Macon's eyes, and he had wanted a midwife to deliver his children. Macon then recounts the events leading up to and after the Doctor's death, ending with the story of finding Ruth naked, cuddled up in a bed with the dead Doctor, sucking on his white, bloated fingers. Disturbed, Macon wonders if perhaps Ruth had a sexual relationship with her father, and not being able to shake that image, he begins finding Ruth sexually repulsive.

After this disturbing encounter, Milkman searches for Guitar and finds him at Tommy's Barbershop, where everyone is listening to the radio. The radio announcer releases information about a recently murdered black man named Till, who was killed by whites because he had whistled at a white woman and spoke freely of sleeping with them. All present and listening are appalled and angry. Freddie thinks Till should not have acted like a big man from up North. Porter angrily claims that even if they catch the perpetrators, no white man will be sentenced for killing a black man. Guitar, fuming, states that no one should die for whistling at a white lady.

Guitar and Milkman walk to Mary's bar/lounge and order two Scotches. Milkman delves into his fight and conversation with his father, deeply distressed over the physical altercation. Milkman wonders why blacks can't receive their names "the right way." Milkman even ponders what Hagar's last name might be, then he states that his own grandfather received his name from a white man. Upset over how his family name came to be, Milkman says someone should have shot his grandfather, to which Guitar responds, "What for? He was already Dead."


Chapter Three shows Milkman growing into a man dominated by egocentric beliefs. Milkman's act of standing up to his father is a means for Milkman to prove his manhood to himself. Acknowledging that he does not have strong feelings of love for his mother, he nevertheless feels glee when he defends her. After his father's talk, Milkman's self-centered attitude comes into view again. Milkman is not unsympathetic to his father's views but he does not have the ability to relate to him. Afterwards, while looking for Guitar, Milkman decides that his family is crazy.

Ruth establishes her inner resilience at the dinner table. As a woman who has been married to her husband for over thirty-five years, Ruth knows how Macon will react when she states that she is her father's daughter. Her private knowledge in this matter gives her the strength she needs to continue living a loveless life. Also, her words are a tribute to her father, Dr. Foster, whom she loved and admired.

Upon reflecting to himself, Milkman also acknowledges the fact that he never thought of Ruth as having a role in life outside of being his mother. Once again, such an attitude reflects his belief that the world revolves around him. Milkman also thinks that he is a ladies' man, and is content with his looks, describing his teeth as "splendid" and his jaw as "firm." Milkman's only insecurity dwells in his belief that his one leg is shorter than the other. This not only distinguishes him from his father, but from the rest of humanity. Milkman's limp and his wealthy upbringing are handicaps that he must surpass in order to escape his sheltered outlook on life.

As Milkman walks down the street, emphasis is placed on traffic walking against him and Milkman being the only one walking in the other direction. Here, one can see that Milkman is different than other people, both in terms of thought and behavior. His uniqueness is once again articulated when he does not cross over to the other side of the street. However, his ability to keep going suggests that he may be brave and strong enough to win whatever challenges or battles he faces. Milkman's overall realization that he is somehow alienated from society begins his quest to develop a more conscientious mind-set.

Milkman irrelevant approach to Guitar's viewpoint is not only a sign of Milkman's ignorance but suggests a broadening gulf between the two friends. Milkman disregards what Guitar speaks of mostly because he cannot relate to it and therefore dismisses it as immaterial. Guitar's speech, a reflection of his poverty-stricken background, relates what he sees around him to oppression and racism. Milkman, immune to such oppression because of a luxurious lifestyle, lives his life in boredom and does not understand Guitar's hostility. Their conversation foreshadows future tension between the two friends.